Millions of articles, indeed entire books, have been written about it, but the Oxbridge application process remains mysterious to many of us. Every year students turn up to Oxbridge interviews terrified that admissions tutors are going to dangle them from third story windows or shoot apples off their heads. Unless we can spread some understanding of what applying to Oxbridge really involves, students will keep finding Oxbridge applications more stressful and confusing than they need to be.
Abolishing the myths
Some of the rumours in circulation about Oxbridge interviews gone wrong are either terrifying or hilarious, depending very much on whether you’re preparing for an interview yourself or not. Here are three that you can rise above:
Rumour 1: Oxbridge interviews involve scary shock tactics.
Verdict: Yes and no. Contrary to popular belief, interviewers won't smash windows or set their own rooms on fire in front of you!
Interviewers may request the unexpected, and occasionally people find them slightly rude or inattentive. This is a tactic to see how you respond under pressure and should not intimidate you.
Rumour 2: They’ll ask impossible questions.
Verdict: Yes and no. Interviewers have, believe it or not, have been known to ask sensible and predictable questions about your course!
You maybe spotlighted with wacky and challenging questions too. Crucially though, these are not usually tests of how much you know but of whether you can think independently about your subject. For the same reason you should not get worried if an interviewer engages with you in debate. You are not necessarily wrong. Their plan is to push you so they can look for your potential.
Rumour 3: No one gets into Oxbridge without lots of interview preparation.
Verdict: This is not true at all. It may sound disreputable, but if you really enjoy your subject and your reading and thinking is beyond the demands of your school curriculum, that is preparation in itself.
If your school offers you interview help, this may indeed give you a boost. Some candidates also find it useful to spend some time with a private tutor, even if this is just to encourage independent thinking and build your confidence. After all, if you have never had an academic interview before, it can be a bit of an intimidating experience. There should be no need to pay for ridiculously expensive ‘Oxbridge preparation’ courses. Stress and over-work does not help your application and could do a lot to hinder it.
At the end of the day, anyone claiming to know 'how to get in' to Oxbridge is, quite frankly, peddling a lie. There is no magic formula to guarantee success and admissions tutors can make mistakes too. What matters is that if you do go ahead with an Oxbridge application, you keep it in perspective. Oxford and Cambridge are just two institutions; the place where you study is not the only thing that determines your education and your happiness. When you cut through the hype, applying to Oxbridge is not about life and death. It is about having a go and enjoying the experience.